A couple of weeks ago I wrote about pitfalls of leadership. Of the comments that were received, one challenged me to write less about the problem and more about the solution. I agree with the comment, and have been thinking about how to avoid the pitfalls of ego and insecurity. Instead of focusing on a negative presumption that a leader is either ego driven or insecure and needs to change, let’s look at it from the perspective that a leader is humble and secure and is teaching how to grow into these characteristics. No more traps to avoid, but rather lessons to learn about the characteristics of a humble and secure leader and how those types of leaders impact the culture of an organization.
The main point of the aforementioned article is that there are two pitfalls leaders can fall into: ego and insecurity. Ego says that people work to please you, and insecurity says that you are there to please others. If these are the traps, then humility and security are solid ground. Humility says it’s not all about me, and security says I’m ok with that. What does a leader who is humble and secure look like?
Characteristics of a humble leader:
- Dangerous Trust — Humility always demands a certain level of trust. A humble leader is willing to take a risk on others, trusting them with the sacredness of the vision, even at the chance they may be disappointed with the outcome.
- Sincere Investment — Humble leaders know the vision is bigger and will last longer than they will, so they willingly invest in others, raising up and maturing new leaders.
- Readily Admits Mistakes — Everyone makes mistakes. In fact, we often learn more through failure than through success. The humble leader is quick to admit when he or she has done wrong and deals with the fault-out without casting blame or making excuses.
- Forgives easily — Leadership is filled with disappointment; often at the expense of other’s mistakes. A humble leader forgives easily, remembering how many times he or she has been forgiven.
- Quickly diverts attention — We all like to be recognized for accomplishments, but a humble leader is quick to divert attention to others, sharing the limelight for successes with those, who many times, may have even had more to do with the success than the leader did. They celebrate the success of others louder than personal success
- Remains thankful — A humble leader is appreciative of the input of others into his or her leadership. So much so that humble leaders spend far more time praising the actions of others than patting themselves on the back for personal accomplishments.
- Recognizes Limitations — No one can do everything. A humble has the ability to say, “I can’t do that,” or “I’m not the one who should”.
- Shares authority — Humble leaders don’t take all the key assignments for themselves, but gives out prime responsibility and authority to people he or she is leading.
- Invites feedback — A humble leader wants to learn from his or her mistakes and wants to continually see improvement. Humble leaders initiate other’s suggestions and feedback, not waiting until complaints come, but personally asking for the input.
Characteristics of a secure leader:
- Secure leaders trust others. They don’t just delegate tasks, they delegate authority — and trust those under them to do what’s best for the organization.
- Secure leaders know it’s about the mission and vision. They recognize they will never know it all, and are willing to take constructive criticism as a learning opportunity.
- Secure leaders partner with others. They have a kingdom mindset. It’s not just about their church or organization — it’s about reaching others. Even if that means humbling themselves and partnering with someone else who is already doing it.
- Secure leaders are all about raising up other leaders. Their heart isn’t just to see leaders at a lower level than themselves, but to see the leaders they raise up go on to far surpass them.
This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of characteristics of a humble and secure leader, it is meant to invite you into a place of deeper consideration. You will notice that some of the characteristics are similar. The emphasis should be on how it is not all about you and you being ok with that. The attributes of each will support teamwork and selflessness. Imagine how a leader could impact the culture of a team or organization when all they want is for everyone else around them to be wildly successful and lifted up? It’s no wonder Jim Collins determined that this type of leader is what separates great companies that sustain greatness from good companies that fade away.
As an influential leader in your environment, try not to focus on things you are doing wrong (ego and insecurity) but rather on the characteristics of humility and security you already display, and build on those. It’s like the old saying goes, if you try not to think about eating chocolate cake, then most likely that’s all you will think about. Try not to focus on how to avoid being egotistical — after all, that focus is still all about you. Focus on how to be humble and think of others. A good exercise to help get you started is to write down the names of everyone on your team and write down what their career goals are next to their names. If you do not know, that is ok — you have just created an opportunity to display humility and security, so go ask them!